Tag Archives: Meriwether Lewis

Keep your focus. DO NOT do that!

… one thing however we are decided in: that you must not undertake the winter excursion which you propose in yours of Oct. 3. such an excursion will be more dangerous than the main expedition up the Missouri, & would, by an accident to you, hazard our main object, which, since the acquisition of Louisiana, interests every body in the highest degree. The object of your mission is single, the direct water communication from sea to sea
To Meriwether Lewis, November 16, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders derail risky tangents.
Lewis’ last letter to the President on October 3 had been from near Cincinnati on the Ohio River. By November 16, Lewis would have been in the St. Louis area, on the Illinois side, and considering his winter plans before leading the Expedition the following spring. Lewis told Jefferson he was planning on a solo horseback trip west, something of a personal scouting effort prior to the main event. Lewis was also recommending his co-leader William Clark take a separate solo trip for additional reconnoitering.

Jefferson was horrified at his protégé’s suggestion but handled it diplomatically. He began with news about the Louisiana acquisition, plans for a government in New Orleans, and the need to avoid offending Spain until the new territory was officially in American possession. There were several matters he left to Lewis’ discretion, affirming his confidence in the man’s judgment. Then he dropped the hammer.

Under no circumstances was Lewis to risk his life or health, or Clark’s, with these unnecessary explorations! There was a single goal before them, finding a water route to the Pacific, and nothing must be allowed that would unnecessarily jeopardize that endeavor.

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If something is not the truth, is it a lie?

… the idea that you are going to explore the Missisipi has been generally given out: it satisfies public curiosity, and masks sufficiently the real destination. I shall be glad to hear from you, as soon after your arrival at Philadelphia as you can form an idea when you will leave …
To Meriwether Lewis, April 27, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Do all leaders hedge the truth occasionally?
Meriwether Lewis left Washington for Philadelphia where some of the nation’s preeminent scientists would tutor him further in mathematics, astronomy, botany and medicine. It was common knowledge that Lewis was mounting some type of exploration, but very few knew that he was heading west, up the Missouri River. The President dribbled out some misdirection, that Lewis was going north, up the Mississippi.

Diplomatic overtures to Spain and France over New Orleans and shipping on the lower Mississippi had not been resolved. It was common knowledge that Spain was ceding Louisiana back to France, and that had serious repercussions for America. (France had not yet offered to sell Louisiana, and that possibility had never been considered on this side of the Atlantic.) Jefferson wanted to avoid offending other nations unnecessarily with the idea of sending American explorers through foreign lands without permission.

Lewis was the President’s personal secretary. With all of his travel, it was obvious Lewis was up to something. Thus, Jefferson deliberately promoted something less than the truth … a lie? … to protect his diplomatic maneuvering, provide cover for Lewis, and satisfy “public curiosity.”

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You cannot come in until he is gone.

I have delayed writing to you, because my great regard for Capt Lewis made me unwilling to shew a haste to fill his place before he was gone, & to counteract also a malignant & unfounded report that I was parting with him from dissatisfaction, a thing impossible either from his conduct or my dispositions towards him. I shall probably recieve a letter from him on his arrival at Philadelphia, informing me when he expects to be back here, and will have the pleasure of communicating to you the earliest conjecture I can form myself for your government. it cannot now be many days.
To Lewis Harvie, April 22, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Loyal leaders treat trusted subordinates with respect and sensitivity.
Jefferson had previously invited Harvie to become his personal secretary once Meriwether Lewis left for the West. Lewis held that position but was away from Washington City and had been delayed in his preparations for the journey. The President expected to receive a letter from Lewis soon, with an update on his planned departure.

Jefferson’s respect for Lewis was profound. It would be improper to appoint Lewis’ successor until his departure had occurred. There was another reason for the delay. A false report appeared in several newspapers the month before that Lewis was staging a political journey to the Southwest. Delaying Harvie’s appointment would reinforce Jefferson’s confidence in Lewis and lay those false claims to rest.

“Hearing Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts about democracy, responsibility and leadership …
surely succeeded in reinforcing the call to serve …”
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Here is a helping hand. PLEASE accept it.

This will be handed you [by] mr Bradbury, an English botanist, who proposes to take St Louis in his botanising tour … besides being a botanist of the first order, he is a man of entire worth & correct conduct … perhaps you can consult no abler hand on your Western botanical observations. I am very often applied to to know when your work will begin to appear; and I have so long promised copies to my literary correspondents in France, that I am almost bankrupt in their eyes. I shall be very happy to recieve from yourself information of your expectations on this subject. every body is impatient for it …
To Meriwether Lewis, August 16, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Mentoring leaders strive long with struggling protégés.
When Lewis returned from his epic journey west in 1806, then President Jefferson gave him the task of preparing for publication a written account of their journey, with an emphasis on its scientific accomplishments. Jefferson had widely promised the resulting book to his friends and fellow scientists.

Almost three years after that return, Jefferson was still waiting. He had written Lewis several times to encourage him in this endeavor and was now sending a helping hand.

What Jefferson didn’t know was that his young protégé had yet to write a word of their westward journey. Probably in the grip of depression, Lewis’ inability to satisfy his patron was one of several crippling failures he endured after their return. Less than two months later, Lewis would take his own life.

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